Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December 16, 2009

Lou Reed opened the day looking for something to screw. But the bright sun streaming in from Baker's terrace would have none of his cussing.

On the table, two huge oranges on the table with a quart of soya milk and two squares of brownies for breakfast. But on a far shelf is another meal and out it goes.

A bottle of Bombay Sapphire and Ma Jian's old book, Red Dust, and hopefully Baker won't mind. Just a glass, senyor; it's your birthday and only a few pages to turn. Besides, the morning is just incredible.

In lieu of coffee, two packets of Rajinigandha pan masala, a crushed betel nut snack infused with spices and herbs from India. It makes the mouth feel fragrant and stains the lips and tastes like an incense stick.

As the glass door opens, the cold breeze slithers in and bare feet step out.

Outside, it's only the fool wind and gin. The expanse of a silver-blue bay flanked by green-topped hills and the silhouette of indigo islands. An open book, a birthday tune and a big sip.

Inhale, boys. Everything is quiet and it's grand.

It's a long stretch from Hong Kong Central to Monsieur Boulangerie's place but it's worth the lurch. From Sai Kung you go down at Tsam Chuk Wan and you're in Wu Geng Bi Shui, the village lounging on a hill overlooking a wide spread of salt water that glimmers non-stop, day and night, like a bright idea that's finally claimed its own territory.

After a year of staggering from one place to another, slow days finally. Decompression. But by sundown, the caffeine compulsion kicks in with ferocious power and it's off to Chai Wan Ho, where coffee's to be had and where SP's waiting.

There's a hotpot bash at his place tonight and a few more supplies are needed.

Five dozen kinds of fish, pork, beef and chicken balls. Check.

Fish chunks. Check.

Paper-thin slices of lamb. Check.

Bacon. Check.

A sack of greens. Check.

Around half past six, Amy the Loser arrives. She tells me she's no longer a loser, though I suspect she still is.

Then KT sashays in with Pierra. Next comes MK and Dorothy.

As tradition goes, I tip a glass of beer over and it shatters on the table but I manage to catch a large wicked shard before it falls to the floor. Wise move.

There's a long gash on my right hand and blood's dripping but no problem. Washed it with ale, splashed some citrus and mercurochrome and taped it up with three band aids.

SP's son Fei-fei gives me a look and I give him back a wink.

Someone takes off the lid and announces the soup's cooking and in go the chopsticks. One pair, two pairs, three, four, five and six.

Everyone's dipping, stories are flowing, laughter's growing louder. Another bottle of wine, then one more, then another and one more. Then it's time for beer gallons. All the bad deeds are recalled and then lofty dreams.

Half-past midnight, Fei-fei's sleeping soundly despite the raucous banter and the good friends have left.

Routine kicks in -- wipe the table, clean the kitchen, tie up the rubbish bags, fold the chairs. A last big bottle of beer, wise and silly words, and it's time to snooze.

By sunrise, Fei-fei's grandmother comes over to pick up the happy toddler and SP and I
head off to a Yunnan eatery for breakfast at 1:00 pm.

We swear to stay away from our evening fare and a hotpot of ten kinds of wild mushroom is ordered, with a chicken thrown in for good measure. SP orders shui zhu yu for the side dish - freshwater fish swimming in chili, oil and tongue-numbing peppercorns; I ask for wild bee pupae, deep-fried.

A few bottles of beer after, we part ways. A blink of an eye later, zoom, I'm in Wan Chai with high school buddy Dennis Briones.

It's been a more than a decade since we last met. He has two daughters now, EZ and KD203 and he's still physically fit and his mind's spry. We go over wild times.

The memory beer named San Miguel pale pilsen is flowing, first in cans and then in the trusty amber bottle.

Dennis is the band leader of Kaktooz, the main act of the most popular saloon in Wan Chai, Bar Amazonia.

It's just a Sunday yet by 9:00 pm the place is already packed. Kaktooz is playing classic rock, reminding everyone who's ever come across veteran Pinoy bands that many of the best musicians in the Philippines are playing outside the country, eking out an honest living while ass-wipe government officials ransack the country's treasury.

I just missed the band's pretty singer Sopheia, who had to fly home for a short break but the rest of the team was there. On the keyboard, Carlo Carranza, dredd locks reaching to his ankles. Pony-tailed Richard Tenorio is thumping bass lines while the wizard Jephthah Wenceslao is spinning tales with his guitar.

On drums -- in the setting he loves the most -- Dennis is generating thunder and playing his heart out as if he were hitting the skins for the first time, singing, swishing, pounding and tapping with the grace of Ian Paice in his veins.

They play The Doors starting with Roadhouse Blues and they don't look back.

An hour past midnight, the stage and a guitar are set on fire and the feline crowd is louder and jumping up and down in a wild dance and they don't stop till it's five in the morning. It's the Kaktooz trance, feral and humid and high octane.

Outside, it's six degrees Celsius, but there's no winter in Hong Kong. Not when Kaktooz is playing. #

Red Constantino is the author of The Poverty of Memory: Essays on History and Empire (FNS, 2006). He has written a number of sketches about Filipino migrant workers. See for instance The Marathon of Erma Geolamin. Comments welcome at redcosmo(at)gmail(dot)com. All pics by redster.

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